One of the reasons I have (not) been doing all those things I usually do was because I spent about two weeks getting ready for, and then two weeks actually on, a road trip. We traveled from Sonoma County out to Albuquerque and back, with a variety of stops along the way. I’m sure I’ll have another thing or two to say about the trip, but I’m inclined to start with what ended up being my favorite part – three nights of car camping at the Grand Canyon.
This first post is mostly about the camping part.
There are two campgrounds on the South Rim – Mather and Desert View.
Desert View, which has 50 campsites, is 26 miles to the east of the main part of the park. It’s said to be great for stargazing, and is much closer to the rim than Mather. I’ve only been to the Grand Canyon in the middle of summer, so I thought some distance from the crowds might be nice. But Desert View wasn’t scheduled to open until April 17, a week after our arrival date.
Our alternative, Mather Campground, has over 300 campsites. I picked a campsite in the “generator free” Pine Loop. I worried that it might feel crowded, but it’s the only other option inside the park.
While I’d love to see what camping at Desert View is like, Mather was great and I’d camp there again without hesitation. The campsites are large, with plenty of space and tall pine trees between them. And the amenities were excellent – coin-op shower and laundry facilities at the entrance to the campground. We ended up waiting until Albuquerque to do laundry, but the showers were like a dream. Private stalls, with a curtain separating the shower area from the changing area. Can you tell I’m not a true country mouse?
We took turns showering and waiting in the laundry room with our stuff. While waiting, I took advantage of the free wifi – such luxury! – to nervously check the weather.
Setting Up Camp
Our arrival was somewhat complicated by the pouring rain that began as we approached the park. As the primary planner of this trip, I was already 100% certain that everything would go completely wrong. I convinced us that it was going to keep raining forever and we should go ahead and set up the tent immediately. I was already pretty sure we were going to have to give up, stuff the wet tent in a trash bag, and find a motel somewhere.
Of course, the rain almost completely stopped about fifteen minutes after we finished. Lesson learned – wait a while and see if the rain stops.
To keep from completely losing it at this point, we decided to leave the wet tent be and go see the actual canyon. We arrived to find it full of fog. This was cool, bu it was a relief when the fog briefly cleared and the canyon itself was in view. Oh good, I didn’t drag him all the way out here to look at a big foggy hole.
We had planned to make dinner at camp, but instead treated ourselves to dinner at the Arizona Room. Mark, the nice waiter, spoke to us in a soothing voice and gave us extra salsa. We ate a hearty chicken and rice soup and salmon.
This was extremely restorative, which was good because the tent situation wasn’t over.
We returned to our campsite. Full of apprehension, I got out of the car and looked in the tent. Yep, it was full of water. I returned to the car. There’s really a lot of water in there, I said. Water inside the tent, water under the tent – it seemed like it had to be totally soaked through.
Brad got out of the car and looked in the tent. He determined that it was not in fact soaked through, and that the water had come in through the window netting before we got the rain fly on.
Thankfully, he was right. After some careful shepherding of water out the door of the tent, and further mopping with both of our towels, we were back in business. We also ended up moving the tent to a spot that seemed less waterlogged, but I’m no longer sure when that happened – it’s lost in the haze. At some point we decided it was dry enough, moved our sleeping bags and pads inside, and went to sleep.
It rained long into the night.
I’m pleased to say that after this rough beginning, the rest of our time at camp was pretty smooth.
At this point, I’ve got to put in a plug for our tent. I’ve spent the last couple years coveting the tents of others while wrestling fiberglass poles into the sleeves of my old family tent. Just before this trip, I finally caved and dragged us to REI. On the way, Brad said something like I probably won’t have much of an opinion on what tent we get.
Unsurprisingly, and fortunately for me, this did not turn out to be true. We bought the Eureka Midori 4 for its full length polyester taffeta rain fly, aluminum poles, and attractive bright green color. It’s on the heavy side, but it’s for car camping – weight was not a concern. And it connects to the poles using those nifty plastic hooks – no sleeves.
I don’t regret it one bit. Once we got it dry inside, it stayed dry. No water came up through the floor. It felt like a miracle.
The older I get, the more I realize how much of a morning person I am. I love being up while the world is still, and seeing the whole day laying itself out in front of me.
Camp mornings were next level.
I had imagined making pancakes for breakfast. but never ended up making anything more complicated than coffee and oatmeal. I’d eat, and drink, and sit for a while. The day would begin to warm.
Then I’d start thinking about what I wanted to do that day, and getting our day pack ready. At some point Brad would get up.
The first day we were off and running, the second day he wanted to relax a while. My blood had already turned to coffee and I struggled with waiting. Still, I tried my best to understand the desire for a quiet morning – even if the magical quiet had already passed.
Next up, hiking on Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails…